Archive for December, 2019

Fast 24s, Surprisingly Cool

Over the years I have shunned the 24mm focal length. Now to be clear, I do like the focal length but back in my hard core film days shooting Canon F-1 and T90 bodies with FD glass, I shot almost exclusively primes. In fact at one point I owned 19 lenses for the Canon FD system and 17 were primes. I did not however own a 24mm lens. Now I did Jones a bit for Canon’s FD 24/1.4 L back in the day but that lens cost more than a block of gold and I was happy with my FD 28/2.0 and my FD 20/2.8. I should have sold those two and got the L, but I never did.

Back in those days my reasoning was that the 24 was just a tad too wide for any kind of people images or a standard wide shot like you get with a 35mm or 28mm. You had to be mindful of tilting the camera to avoid too much of that stretched or leaning back look. Yet it wasn’t wide enough to really exaggerate it like the ultra wide 20mm or even wider lenses could. So I always thought of 24mm as that in between wide angle that didn’t really know what it wanted to be. If I wanted to really stretch things out, I’d reach for one of my three ultra wides which were the 20/2.8, 17/4.0, and 14/2.8.

Of course being the in between was the whole point of the 24mm. It was versatile and I missed out on some amazing shots I could have gotten with the FD 24/1.4 L. Even in the auto focus EF era which is now well over 30 years old, I still hadn’t ponied up the coin for the EF 24/1.4 L.

Well, Canon has a Mark II version of the EF 24 L now and at the last PhotoFair show in Newark, I found a guy with the Mark I sitting on his table. It was just the way I like ’em, a little beat up with clean glass. He was asking about $500 for it and we wheeled and dealed a bit until we agreed on $400. Suddenly I had a 24mm F/1.4 L. Nice thing about PhotoFair is you can see it, touch it, test it out. I did, and it was all good.

Well I’m here to tell you that having a fast wide angle is amazing. Who would of thought you could shoot a 24mm lens and have a meaningful discussion about the quality of the bokeh? Well even a 24mm lens can throw the back ground out of focus at 1.4. This older Mark I lens has a minimum focus distance of about 9 inches. You can get pretty darn close. Close focus coupled to that 1.4 opening leads to reasonably soft backgrounds.

I do a fair bit of reading about lenses, including some of those comprehensive lens tests on sites like DXOmark and DP Review. This Mark I lens was universally loved when it came out in 1997 but as digital cameras improved the lens began to show its weaknesses. It is sharp but not super sharp in the center and it is pretty soft on the corners wide open. In 2008 the mark II came out and was widely considered to be a vast improvement.

With that in mind I was a bit nervous about how this lens would perform. I do like a good sharp image. When I got the lens back home I started playing around with it and after a short while I was feeling like, “where have you been all my life?” So it is true this lens at F1.4 is a tad soft even in the center and pretty soft on the corners. But it controls distortion really well and doesn’t flare unless you shoot into a crazy lighting situation and even then it is well controlled. At F/2.8 it is tack sharp in the center and very sharp in the corners. Notice I said a “tad” soft. It is not soft but it does miss some fine details that some of my sharper lenses will resolve. The first picture I have below is taken at the minimum focus distance wide open, which is about the worst scenario to expect sharp images, yet it is sharp. Not tack sharp, but sharp.

This is a fun lens and I am quite happy to own it. Users of other camera systems can get a lens like this as well. Nikon has a 24/1.4, Sony has one, and Sigma makes an Art 24/1.4 for Canon EF, Nikon F, and Sony FE.

Kodak Signet, EOS-R 24/1.4 L at F/1.4 near minimum focus of 9 inches

Muffin in the bathroom, EOS-R 24/1.4 L at F/1.4

Betsy, EOS-R  24/1.4 L at F/1.4

Leaves in the yard, EOS-R  24/1.4L at F/2.8

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